Middle East

IS exploits children as weapon of media war

IS video showing children from an orphanage undergoing military training Image copyright iS Media
Image caption Children from an orphanage were shown undergoing military training feature in one IS video

Self-styled Islamic State (IS) exploits children in its propaganda as part of the group's efforts to claim that its so-called caliphate represents and caters to all.

Its recent release of a mobile app for teaching youngsters the Arabic alphabet and a radio series featuring young boys shows the jihadist group's attempt to appeal to children and draw them into its midst.

This is also an element of IS recruitment propaganda aimed at parents, who are encouraged to migrate to areas under the group's control along with their families, as well as prospective parents who are supposed to believe that IS offers an ideal "Islamic" society, protecting and educating those under its watch.

But military training for boys and their exploitation as suicide bombers is an essential part of the picture, demonstrating the group's brutality and its glorification of death.

The way IS displays children at the forefront of its propaganda is designed to show the group is fostering a future generation of fighters and overseeing ideological indoctrination that poses a potentially irreversible threat.

Appeal to families

IS recently released a new Android app for teaching the Arabic alphabet with colourful cartoon-like images clearly designed to appeal to young audiences.

Images of military hardware like tanks and missiles were used to illustrate the different letters alongside more mundane items like an apple or a bicycle, with a young boy's voice reading the words aloud.

Image copyright IS MEDIA
Image caption The IS spelling app for children uses images of military hardware to illustrate letters

The launch of the app followed a series of programmes on IS's Al-Bayan Radio aimed at children in which child actors delivered a heavily ideologically-driven script.

In the broadcasts, two young brothers discussing life in "the land of the caliphate" expressed their delight at IS-style schooling and their desire to grow up in the mould of an IS militant.

When one of the boys mentioned his fear of US-led coalition air strikes, he was offered scripted reassurance that he was far better off living under IS rule than facing "hardships and humiliation" elsewhere.  

This fell in line with the group's continual efforts to show its ability to reach into the minds of small children and indoctrinate a new generation of fighters who will present a long-term threat to its enemies.


IS media output flaunts the group's education of children, showing them seated in school classrooms and attending religious courses.

In November 2015, the group published new school textbooks online as part of a reform of the educational curriculum in areas it governs.

Image copyright IS Media
Image caption New school textbooks online as part of a reform of the educational curriculum in IS-held areas

This included English-language material for children from primary school level whose pages were decorated with rifles.

'Cubs of the caliphate'

IS uses children to advertise various other functions of its so-called state, aiming to depict its "caliphate" as an ideal society that caters to all.

For example, the group has claimed that it offers advanced paediatric care, while also issuing urgent pleas for qualified medics to travel to join the group's territory.

Numerous recruitment videos have featured foreign fighters alongside their children, justifying their migration to IS-controlled areas and showing infants visiting playgrounds or frolicking in fields, supposedly enjoying the security of life under the group's rule.

A video released in May showed numerous children allegedly from Malaysia and Indonesia, whose passports were ceremoniously burnt in the film, in an apparent effort to suggest that IS represented a future threat to Southeast Asia.     

These so-called "cubs of the caliphate" were filmed receiving religious and military training.

Glorification of death

IS's focus on drilling military messages into boys has been echoed in its media output, which showcases its use of child soldiers to carry out killings.

A February video featured a boy recognised as the four-year-old son of British convert Grace Khadija Dare, who reportedly fled to Syria in 2013, appearing to detonate a remote-controlled bomb that killed three men.

IS also frequently celebrates teenage "martyrs" who have been used as suicide bombers, posting their images and glorifying their death.

A video from early this year featured a father supporting his 15-year-old son's path to becoming a bomber.

IS's glorification of war and death in battle is played out in computer-game-style videos, which are aimed at luring boys and young men into the fray.

By exploiting children in its media, IS also seemingly seeks to provoke Western opinion, hoping to guarantee its place in the news.

BBC Monitoring reports and analyses news from TV, radio, web and print media around the world. You can follow BBC Monitoring on Twitter and Facebook.